TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie says he understands victims' frustrations a year after Superstorm Sandy but maintains that his administration isn't to blame for delays in aid reaching victims.
In an interview with The Associated Press as the anniversary of the Oct. 29 megastorm approached, Christie blamed Congress, which took three months to approve a $50.7 billion relief package for the region, and a thicket of red tape put in place to prevent the type of fraud that occurred after Hurricane Katrina.
"We've done everything we possibly can, and I think in the immediate aftermath did a very good job," Christie told the AP. "Since then, we've kind of been hostage to two situations, the delay in the aid itself and then what I call the 'Katrina factor,' which is the much more detailed and difficult rules surrounding the distribution of the aid."
Christie, widely believed to be positioning himself for a 2016 Republican presidential run, saw his popularity skyrocket after Sandy as he donned a blue fleece pullover and doggedly led the state through its worst natural disaster, a freakish storm that plunged 5.5 million state residents into darkness, damaged 360,000 homes and businesses, and disrupted gasoline supplies for days.
Christie was in many ways the face of the storm, whether he was embracing President Barack Obama during a visit to the battered coast or consoling a tearful 9-year-old girl who had lost her house and told the governor she was scared.
Lately, though, some of his admirers have become detractors.
Frustrations boiled over at a hearing last week on the pace of the recovery in Toms River, one of the hardest-hit communities. Storm victims there complained of insurance companies trying to lowball them on payouts, and stringent aid rules delaying them from rebuilding.
"These programs are intended to help; they're not. They're just putting more obstacles on you," said Vincent Giglio, a doctor from the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, which was devastated by the storm and remains sparsely populated a year later. He said getting insurance payouts and government aid has been daunting.